As far back as the 1960s, dating shows have been interested in getting their contestants to focus on finding a “true” connection by taking attraction out of the equation. The Dating Game hid suitors behind a wall while they answered questions from the lead; Love Is Blind trapped its contestants in futuristic pods where they could talk but not see each other. By far the weirdest variation of this conceit is Netflix’s new reality series Sexy Beasts, which dresses people up in garish, extreme costume makeup to obscure their looks. They want couples to “say goodbye to superficial dating” and get to know each other on a deeper level. Unfortunately, Sexy Beasts isn’t actually interested in plumbing those depths.
In each episode, a lead dates three prospective suitors before choosing one to continue seeing (without actually having seen them first). There’s a fluffy panda, a fiery demon, and one fur-coated beaver who, when asked what he’s looking for, proclaims he’s an “ass man” before remembering he’s on a show that’s supposed to be about personality. The purported risk on a series like Sexy Beasts is that someone might be “ugly” or at least not the lead’s “type” — ostensibly prompting daters to question how highly they prioritize looks and whether or not they’re able to see beyond what someone can offer physically. But time and time again, daters are unmasked to reveal the same models and model types that can be found on every other dating show. What, really, are the stakes when everyone is thin and conventionally attractive?
This is indicative of the genre as a whole. The Dating Game featured contestants who went on to become heartthrob celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Suzanne Somers, and Farrah Fawcett; on Love Is Blind, one contestant proclaimed “holy sh*t” when he saw his future wife. Though these shows do offer varying degrees of entertainment (Love Is Blind is one of Netflix’s most popular shows), they ultimately have nothing interesting to say about dating or love. On Sexy Beasts, the cast doesn’t even seem particularly invested in finding the right match. After one contestant responds with the wrong answer to a lead’s “dealbreaker” question, she simply tells the camera it’s a thing they can “work on.”
Sexy Beasts feels especially mind-numbing because it blows through the entire process in 22-minute episodes. Instead of something like The Bachelorette, where we see storylines play out across a season, Sexy Beasts offers little to no insight about who the leads are on a substantive level or why they’ve connected with their chosen suitor. Even with the flamboyant makeup, contestants mostly blur together. Each episode hits the same beats — people dancing in their costumes, saying they feel judged for their appearance when they date. There’s little to no body diversity among cast members, and when the lead sees the “reveal” of the runner up they rejected, they usually say something to the effect of, “I don’t regret my decision, but they do look great.”
The only level of artifice Sexy Beasts manages to strip away with is the fairy tale romance shilled by shows like The Bachelor. Instead of being whisked off to an extravagant mansion or a Mexico vacation, the couples are simply rewarded with the opportunity to keep dating. Still, whether or not you believe these people are actually finding love, the prosthetics don’t change anything about the way they’re looking for it or who they’re looking for it with. All we’re really watching is an awkward Tinder date dressed up in fur and feathers.
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